During a recent trip to the library, my little one decided to rent Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." I presume this decision was based on the picture of Esmerelda on the cover, and my daughter's fondness for Disney Princess movies. Now, I should have known better, because I am familiar with the story, but in my defense it is a Disney film and it did carry a G rating. Pixar's "The Incredibles" has a PG rating, and my daughter has seen and enjoyed that film. (So have I, for that matter, but that's another story entirely.)
All I have to say is, the MPAA dropped the ball on Hunchback. Or else Disney bribed them. Something. Because about half an hour into the film, around about the time of the carnival when things go from good to bad, I turned it off. With my daughter's approval. She's only 5 1/2, and the film was scaring her. Badly. And this is a girl who doesn't flinch at the dragon in "Sleeping Beauty" which let me tell you made an indeliable impression on my young self. (I saw that one again recently, and am pretty sure I've already commented here on some of the hidden meanings I saw in it.)
It was dark, it was scary, and we hadn't even gotten to the bit where the Judge lusts after Esmerelda yet. (Though Tony Jay is an excellent villain, had they stuck to the story and kept the archdeacon the villain, I think listening to David Ogden Stiers would have been far creepier.) This was not a film meant as a horror outing, unless the executives at Disney wanted to see how far they could push the envelope with the ratings board. And it masquerades as a typical Disney flick, right down to the talking gargoyles. Yet, as dark as it was, I know adults who would have a hard time with it.
Which got me to thinking that it's often these kind of horror outings that are most effective, even when they aren't intended as such. I freely confess that the majority of the slasher films out there bore me to tears. Or worse, amuse the heck out of me. Saw was so preposterous, so ridiculous, that I fast-forwarded through the better part of it just out of morbid curiosity to see how they were going to end the train wreck. Give me a subtle, creeping horror any day over some whack-job with a sharp blade and too much free time on their hands.
Some stories just seem to have an inherent creepiness, again even if they weren't originally designed to scare. Sometimes it's not even the story itself, but one of the characters in it that sends chills down your spine. The kind of character that you just wouldn't want to meet in a lit hallway, never mind a dark alley. Aside from the Judge in Hunchback, I can't think of any off the top of my head - but I know they're out there. I've seen them. And they can turn anything they're in into a "don't watch this in the dark" experience.